Rinka Maki/KbN/Damage/toddle/hey willpower, SXSW 2008, March 15, 2008

Because Japanese showcases at SXSW draw capacity crowds, anyone who actually wants to see a particular performer pretty much has to commit to sitting through all the bands that come before it. I was glad, then, that toddle was given the 11 p.m. slot — that meant I could leave after their showcase.

Of course, that also meant watching three other performers before then. When I first started attending Japan Nite, I was open to anything. These days, I have a sense of what gets programmed for Japan Nite, and I can tell which performers will interest me. Or not.

Rinka Maki started the evening with a cabaret-style showcase featuring classic songs, some with new lyrics in Japanese. I even heard snatches of Hawaiian music.

Rinka’s recordings are big affairs, with full orchestras and big bands. Her showcase, however, pared that band to a standard piano trio, and her choice of material tended not to be so boisterous.

I’m pretty sure, however, most of the straight guys in the audience weren’t paying much attention to the music. I bet some of them were busting a nut. Rinka’s impossibly blue outfit paid homage to the sailor-suit uniform of Japanese school girl’s while revealing a number of important … assets. Hold up your pinky finger — that’s her figure.

I bet she sold a lot of merchandise.

Electronica bands make for lousy live shows. I was not looking forward to KbN. After hearing samples of the Taiwanese band’s music online, I had doubts about whether it would translate on stage.

The band’s set started with rumblings in the bass that went on and on and on. The music eventually built to a climax, but the arc used to get there was uneven and uneventful. The knob twiddling was accompanied by some fuzzy chords on guitar, but mono, this band is not.

A live drummer came out at one point, but when the bass line didn’t deviate for a number of minutes, I immediately concluded that I just don’t get electronica. The illusion of repetition is a great thing, but repetition itself is dangerous. Sometimes I think the major weakness of the genre is its reliance not on the illusion but the thing itself. Perhaps my ear just demands a lot more.

I went out to the patio to smoke after 15 minutes.

Damage seemed like an interesting enough band when I listened to a few tracks on their Myspace page, but I could already tell their music would have little staying power with me.

Damage plays the kind of synth and guitar rock a few descendants removed from Orgy. It’s got a great danceable beat and a lot of futuristic grit. The only problem was the band’s dependence on the same tempo from song to song. When I got closer to the stage, I could feel the rumble of the bass on the floor. I started moving a lot more when I felt that bass, but without that aid, the effect is lost.

I actually caught toddle at the Japan Bash party on Thursday afternoon, and the open air wasn’t friendly to the band’s sound. Tabuchi Hisako could barely be heard, and the unseasonably warm afternoon heat seemed to drain the band. I didn’t find the dull stage presence a good sign.

But in the confines of a club, toddle packed a stronger punch. The lack of energy on Thursday was history. When Tabuchi had her moments to shred, she played with the intensity of her NUMBER GIRL days. Bassist Esaki Noritoshi was the most energetic member, but he kept his back to the audience, focusing his attention on support drummer Uchino Masato from the band moools.

On recording, toddle isn’t an overpowering presence, but live, the music has more bite. It was a performance worth the wait.

I had to haul ass from one end of downtown to the other to catch hey willpower at Lambert’s. First, I didn’t know where the place was, and I ended up circling a number of blocks before someone pointed me in the right direction.

When I got there, a capacity crowd was there for a band called WHY? Yes, WHY? is their name. I couldn’t see the band at all, and what I heard was some nerdy indie rock hip-hop. I was so not cool enough to get it. The crowd for WHY? decamped, leaving a bit more room for hey willpower’s audience.

Will Schwartz has the moves. Really.

He sang and danced like the radio pop idols he loves. For "Uh-Uh-Uh", he taught the audience some steps to go with the chorus. But then the laptop crashed.

It was occasion for me to blurt out to my friend, "I thought Macs didn’t crash." A lengthy reboot, however, held things up. But once they got up and running, the set went without a hitch.

The folks more involved with Schwartz’s genius indie rock spin on radio pop claimed the area closest to the stage from folks who didn’t want to dance. And dance they did. I tried, but I wasn’t drunk enough. I just moved a bit, while I let me friend — ripped to the eyeballs — shake her thang.

The set was pretty short, perhaps abbreviated by the technical difficulties. Still, it was fun cap to the evening.